Turkish main opposition leader backs Gül to take on Erdogan, columnist says

The leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) will back former president Abdullah Gül to take on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the next election, Hürriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi said on Friday.

Gül served as the first president from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) between 2007 and 2014, before stepping away from frontline politics amid rumoured tension with Erdoğan.

Widely regarded as a more liberal figure, Gül has been repeatedly touted as a potential unity candidate capable of overcoming the polarised nature of Turkish politics.

Gül won the backing of both the secular CHP and the smaller, Islamist Felicity Party to run in the 2018 presidential election for the Nation Alliance. But his candidacy faltered after being opposed by the nationalist Good Party, which makes up the third grouping in the electoral coalition.     

But Selvi said Gül remains the presidential candidate favoured by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as he seeks to build a broad consensus to return Turkey to a parliamentary political system.

A 2017 referendum granted Erdoğan expanded executive powers, a move critic says has removed constitutional checks and balances, and further undermined Turkish democracy.

However, Kılıçdaroğlu is set to face opposition from his party’s grassroots, who are more likely to favour Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş or Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, Selvi said.

Both mayors sit more comfortably within the CHP’s secular-nationalist tradition and have bolstered their appeal by uniting a diverse range of opposition voters to win at the 2019 local elections.